After Vanuatu, the Oceanic Discoverer entered the Solomon Islands waters, beginning at Santa Anna, where a fiesta of activities, were staged to welcome us. As soon as we anchored the early morning had begun on Santa Ana. This friendly Island is 7.5km off the San Cristobal’s eastern tip, and 77km from Kirakira. Formerly called Owa Rafa or Owa Rah, the island is a raised coral atoll. From certain aspects Santa Ana can look like a peaked cap. Mt. Faraina, a 143m plateaus in the centre, dominates the whole island.
After the welcome we moved to the entertainment area. The tourists gathered in a small shade, made of timber and corrugated iron roof. The entertainment began with panpipe music, a women’s dance, and a couple numbers on fishing rituals. Santa Anna Islanders are very good carvers and bead makers. Most of the woodwork is made from hardwood and ebony trees. The carvings depict the life of the islanders such as fishing and myths about sharks, bonita, and other marine life.
From Santa Anna Island we sailed into Langa Langa Lagoon on the big island of Malaita. Alite Harbour is in Langa Langa Lagoon, a magnificent lagoon of small islands, surrounded by mangroves, sandy beaches, and tall coconuts. Langa Langa Lagoon is famous for its artificial islands. One of these, Laulasi is 400 years old. This is the Headquarter for shell money manufacture as well as for ship building. There are also skull shrines. Centuries ago the people of nearby Malaita built islands in Alite Harbour as protection from the inland bushman. Known for trading shells as money, the village still uses this traditional currency for bride price. Malaita Island has a large and mysterious hinder-land, a sort of reservoir for old ways. The highlands rise to 1303m at Mt. Kolovrat. Many people worship ancestral spirits, and still have more sacrificial faces and tattoos. Many have blond hair.
We visited the Busu Cultural Centre to a fanfare of activities, including being treated to a traditional shell money making show. The organizers of the Busu Cultural Centre thought about everything from welcome ceremony, to collecting, and recording all the money made from the tourist. After the tourists leave the organizers would convert the Australian or American currencies into Solomon Islands Dollar before paying the owner of a product sold during the tourists visit.
From Malaita we travelled across to the Florida Islands where we stopped at Rodderick Bay. Our stop here was brief, but warming in that the villagers welcomed us with open arms, even though they were so upset with another tourist company that abandoned its cruise ship in the harbour after it ran aground on the reef. The ship, tilted to the side on the reef, looks like a broken glass stuck to the ground with its sharp dangerous edge sticking upward.
I was out in the sea and islands so long that I had lost sense of days that going into Gizo did not seem like a weekend. Through out the journey we visited only islands and isolated lagoons in various countries. This was the first time we had come ashore a modern township. The Oceanic Discoverer anchored in its harbour on a fine and calm Saturday morning.
After breakfast we went ashore to Gizo. A bamboo band welcomed us on arrival at the shore. I did not realize that it was a Saturday on Gizo. We went ashore and looked around the small township. We were welcomed by a group of Tamure dancers in the Gizo Hotel.
I asked the agent representing the Coral Princess Cruises in the Solomons to show me where I can change some money. I had only US dollars. I was lucky as I found out I can change US dollars at the reception of Gizo Hotel. So I changed US$20.00 into Solomons $140.00. That was a lot of money to pick up a few things that I could get hold of.
We walked around the township of Gizo for a while. I also met some Papua New Guineans living in Gizo. One of them was my colleague, Regis Stella’s elder brother. It was good to meet him. I also met Jully Makini, a fellow poet from the Solomon Islands in Gizo. So it was nice to meet them in Gizo. We sat on the beach side outside the Gizo Hotel and talked for some time before I returned to the Oceanic Discoverer.
As soon as we arrived on the ship a group of PNG government officials from the Department of Immigration, NAQIA, and the agent representing the Coral Princess Cruises joined us on board. The officials had just arrived from Honiara to Gizo airport, located on one of the small islands next to the town. Since we were to enter PNG waters for the first time the officials had to process our papers before crossing over to PNG.
A brief stop at Kennedy Island was necessary before crossing into PNG waters. I went with the tourists to the island. where we enjoyed a bright and beautiful day on the Kennedy Island has natural crystal sandy beach, untouched reefs, and clean clear waters. Kennedy Island was named after John F. Kennedy, who along with his crew, was run down by a Japanese Destroyer Amagiri. The island is preserved as a marine reserve, but serves as a popular tourist site. There are no people living on the island, except for artefact traders who visit the island regularly. I even had my first scuba diving lesson here for which I was to receive a certificate later.
It was only 48 hours after we left Gizo that the Tsunami wiped out everything we saw and captured in our memory of Gizo. Ironically, this island went under the Tsunami when it arrived on the Island on Tuesday. The Tsunami went passed us on the day we anchored in the safe harbours of Milne Bay waters.
Gizo will remain in my mind as a precious pearl lost to Tsunami.